- This Saturday, February 10, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP will spearhead what its leaders hope will be an historic rally and march in downtown Raleigh.
- The event will take place inside Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium at the Progress Energy Center and will conclude with a march to the state Legislative Building.
- If recent trends are any indication, the event should be a big success.
This Saturday’s “H K on J” (for Historic Thousands on Jones Street – the site of the state Legislative Building) “People’s Assembly” has the potential to be one of the most important events of the 2007 political year. If it proceeds as its organizers hope, H K on J has will serve as the symbolic kick-off for a new wave of activism and policy successes for the state’s resurgent progressive movement. Here are five overarching reasons that North Carolinians of all races who care about that movement and its success ought to consider attending and participating in the event:
Reason #1 – North Carolina’s Needs are Great – Despite the remarkable progress of the last half-century that has transformed it from a mostly rural, segregated and stagnant state into a place of increasing urbanity, diversity and rapid growth, North Carolina stands at a dangerous juncture. Like a young adult enamored of his or her newfound powers and independence, North Carolina revels in its explosive growth and national (even international) prominence, but does far too little to harness or direct its new and exciting strengths and capacities toward the common good.
The results are predictable. In some areas, business hums at a breakneck pace and forests and farms disappear rapidly under wave after wave of sparkling, affluent suburbs. The inhabitants of these regions and neighborhoods break state records for education and income while consuming more calories and energy and health care than any predecessor group in state history. Meanwhile, at the very same moment, in urban pockets, small towns and across broad swaths of the rural countryside, North Carolinians struggle to get by – eking out a subsistence lifestyle in the ruins of the collapsed manufacturing and tobacco sectors through a combination of low-paying service jobs, scandalously unfair consumer loans, shoddy and overpriced housing and a health care system that revolves around the nearest hospital emergency room.
In short, seven years into the new millennium, North Carolina stands starkly divided into two growing groups – a booming, if stressed and insecure, propertied class and a swelling and increasingly discouraged underclass. In between, those in the eroding middle look desperately for ways to secure entry into the former and avoid falling into the latter.
Reason #2 – Race Remains a Central Issue – Any discussion of the divides that afflict North Carolina must acknowledge the enormous, ongoing impact of race and the many vestiges of racism that persist in 2007. On the whole, according to Census data, North Carolinians of African heritage have much less wealth, poorer health, lower educational achievement, poorer housing, higher rates of crime and violence. Newly arriving Hispanics must endure a similar reality.
And while the state made enormous headway during the latter part of the 20th century in eliminating racist laws and rules that had, in effect, mandated such results, its progress in attacking the aftermath of hundreds of years of racism has lagged. As more than one observer has noted, it’s simply not enough to announce one day that state sanctioned discrimination is “over” and that everyone is “equal” from now on. Unless one plans to wait another 300+ years for the issue to go away, intentional, public action will be necessary to promote healing.
In light of this hard truth, the newly energized North Carolina NAACP offers an encouraging measure of hope and promise for North Carolinians of all races. One of the great strengths of the rejuvenated organization is the way its leadership practices what it preaches – affirmatively reaching out to build bridges with committed and caring people of all races even as it pursues its guiding mission of advancing the quality of life for people of color. This inclusive attitude is reflected in the 14-point policy agenda and the diverse set of cosponsors that the group has constructed to accompany Saturday’s event.
Reason # 3 – State Government is More Important than Many Realize – One of the most vexing problems for those who care about reenergizing intentional public solutions to what ails North Carolina is the failure of much of the state’s progressive community to grasp the importance of the state public policy debate.
Unlike the right – particularly the market fundamentalist right – whose members long ago realized that they could do much to advance their cause by loudly inserting themselves into the debates in Raleigh, many progressives seem a trifle bored with the details of state government. Thus, at the same time that the state’s right-wing talk shows feature hour after hour of the rants of the disaffected dissecting (however inaccurately) various proposals of state policymakers, many progressives devote their political energies and attention to things like the 2008 presidential race – something that North Carolinians will have precious little ability to impact (at least anytime soon). Others, of course, are simply overwhelmed by the challenges of modern life and find state level debates lightly covered by the media and difficult to follow in the limited time they have available.
H K on J thus offers thinking North Carolinians a golden opportunity to learn about and become connected with state policymaking debates. On a host of bread and butter issues that impact people’s lives at a very real and practical level – from tax fairness, to health care to public education to affordable housing – rally participants will have the chance to speak loudly and clearly to people with the power to make an immediate difference in the lives of average North Carolinians. It is a chance that ought not to be missed.
Reason # 4 – The Stars are Aligning – After several years in which state policymaking debates have listed along under the de facto control of powerful moneyed interests, recent developments signal the advent of a small but measurable movement in a new direction. Hopeful signs include:
- Last year’s successful lobbying and ethics reform movement led by the Coalition for Lobbying Reform and Common Cause North Carolina that not only took a bite out of big money politics but help propel Rep. Joe Hackney to the House Speaker’s position;
- The growing strength of the movement to promote publicly financed “voter owned” elections led by groups like Democracy North Carolina;
- A new and promising effort by lawmakers to seriously address the state’s unfair and out-of-date tax system;
- The widespread and growing disenchantment in all segments of society with the market fundamentalist/neoconservative movement and the disastrous results it has brought about at the federal level; and
- The reemergence of the North Carolina NAACP as a strong, multi-racial voice for the advancement of a progressive movement.
In tandem with several other encouraging signs, these developments seem to herald the beginnings of a sea change in state policymaking. Saturday’s rally will present an excellent opportunity for participants to be a part of the wave.
Reason # 5 – There’s Nobody Here But Us Chickens – Despite the nostalgic reverence with which so many modern progressives look back on the 1960’s and 70’s, there can be no doubt that today’s activists have just as great (if not greater) potential to effect significant change. They have better information, better communications, better funding and a more coherent policy agenda than their forebears. The only thing modern activists lack is the passion that led their 20th century predecessors to take matters into their own hands – the understanding that if they didn’t march for change, no one else would. This Saturday’s event should provide a useful barometer as to how far modern North Carolina progressives have come in grasping the fact that their time has come.